[Plura-list] Attack Surface in Wired; The herd immunity conspiracy; How to cheat at Clock Simulator

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Mon Oct 12 12:58:18 EDT 2020

Today's links

* Attack Surface in Wired: Toolsmith-user solidarity.

* The herd immunity conspiracy: Follow the money.

* How to cheat at Clock Simulator: I got rhythm.

* Someone Comes to Town, part 18: This week's podcast comes with a
content warning.

* Facebook vs The Big Lebowski: The Zuck abides.

* Papercraft Haunted Mansion Hallowe'en: Print, color, decorate!

* This day in history: None

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming appearances, current writing
projects, current reading


🔝 Attack Surface in Wired

My next book, Attack Surface - AKA Little Brother 3  - drops in the
US/Canada tomorrow (it's came out in other English-speaking countries on
Oct 1) and today, Wired's Andy Greenberg published his review of the
series and the new book.

It's excellent.


Attack Surface is a standalone Little Brother book for adults, telling
the story of Masha Maximow, a complicated sometimes-villain from the
first two Little Brother books. While Marcus Yallow spends those books
fighting surveillance, Masha is one of the people building in.

At first, Masha feels like she has good reasons for doing what she does,
redirecting her trauma of living through a terrorist attack into making
her city and country safer.

But as she moves from the DHS to some Beltway Bandits contracting in an
Iraq Forward Operations Base, hunting insurgents, she increasingly turns
to compartmentalization and rationalization as a means of living with
her own reflection in the mirror.

Finally, she finds herself in the former USSR, where a new employer puts
her to work spying on pro-democracy activists for brutal oligarchs, and
to assuage her conscience, she moonlights teaching those same activists
to resist her employer's surveillance gear.

This self-destructive behavior can't last long - as Masha flees her
(former) employer's wrath, she returns to San Francisco, where her
childhood best friend is now a racial justice organizer being targeted
by the cyberweapons Masha herself built.

What follows is the story of Masha's moral reckoning, and moral
reckonings are the theme of Greenberg's piece: after all, Little Brother
and Homeland inspired a legion of pro-user, anti-surveillance
technologists and activists.

But it also led plenty of people into tech careers that have been
devoted to taking away the freedom and power that Little Brother excited
in them to begin with.

Indeed, virtually everyone working on surveillance, ad-tech, or DRM
started with the life-changing experience of discovering how code could
project your will around the world, and how networks could set your mind
free to wander the globe in search of likeminded communities.

And now, every day, they go to work making sure no one else will have
that experience. Like all of us, they make a compromise, which begets a
compromise, which begets yet another and another, and one day you find
yourself working for Palantir or NSO Group.

Indeed, under conditions of monopoly capitalism, a sizeable fraction of
us, in tech and out, spend our lives (and our money) furthering the
interests of companies and states that are destroying those lives, and
the planet too.

In the book, Masha thinks about this as a form of debt, like the "tech
debt" that ever programmer has had to contend with: you take a shortcut,
and then you have to prop it up in subsequent revisions, until the whole
app is a teetering mess built on a crumbling foundation.

Like so many of us, Masha's moral debts have mounted and threaten
catastrophic default. Attack Surface is the story of how she structures
a bankruptcy that she can emerge from, transformed into a new and better

In his review, Greenberg talks with eminent human rights technologists
about their own experience of the novel, and the tales he relates - many
of which I read for the first time this morning - literally brought a
tear of awesome, overwhelming joy and pride to my eye.

From Nathan Freitas, who put the book into the hands of every young
technologist he met and then assigned it to his NYU ITP classes, where
it found its way into the hands of Harlo Holmes, who calls it
"fundamental to her origin story."

"It informed my thoughts around how privacy should work, the interplay
between movement activists, technology and the law, and what you should
look out for when inviting technologies into your life to do that
movement building."

Today, Holmes is director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation,
teaching activists and journalists to resist foundation - the Foundation
is also home to Securedrop, which Aaron Swartz helped create. Aaron
wrote an afterword for Homeland, and took his own life shortly before
its publication.

I toured that book haunted by his specter, telling his story as best as
I could at every stop. Then, years later, I happened on some video shot
at that time: Laura Poitras's Academy Award-winning documentary

Homeland gets a cameo there, as Edward Snowden is packing his go-bag
while he hustles out of his Hong Kong hotel room, heading for a HK
safehouse, a plane, and then, thanks to John Kerry's decision to cancel
his passport midflight, to a long-term exile in Russia.

Greenberg quotes Snowden on the book: "He is to me a radical idealist,
because no matter how bad things get, his mind goes to the stories of
cooperation and creation-sharing.

"When the traditional structures of oppression are up to no good, as was
the case in Little Brother, Cory doesn't reflexively indoctrinate young
readers with platitudes on the inevitability of corruption. He helps
them reimagine the limits of their own power."

And then Greenberg quotes my EFF colleague Eva Galpering, who, like
Masha, is a brilliant security researcher raised by Soviet refugees:
"This is a book for the people who realize that they've grown up and
made a lot of compromises, and about how you turn back from that."

Eva is joining me on the Attack Surface Lectures, a series of eight
events that start tomorrow night.


Her remarks, and those of Greenberg's other sources, filled me with
soaring joy this morning.

Even in the midst of my crushing, daily anxiety for the future of
technology, the nations of my birth and residence, for my child and the
planet she'll inherit, I was uplifted today.

These books of mine have gone far, thanks to readers like you. Today,
with one day to go before Attack Surface's publication, I feel like, in
some small way, I may have made a difference.


🔝 The herd immunity conspiracy

Thing about the "herd immunity" debate is, there isn't one. Herd
immunity was discarded by WHO virologists and epidemiologists and their
US/UK counterparts. So why are we still talking about it?

Thank right-wing think-tanks, awash in corporate money.


The Hoover Institute and the American Institute for Economic Research
have coordinated with the Trump administration to promote this idea.
Hoover's Scott Atlas is on Trump's covid task force and his idea of
scientific debate is threatening to sue scientists.

The majority of support for herd immunity comes from three scientists:
Martin Kulldorff (Harvard Med), Sunetra Gupta (Oxford epidemiology) and
theex-Hooverites Jay Bhattacharya (Stanford).

These three convened the meeting that produced the "Great Barrington
Declaration" arguing for herd immunity - a declaration whose signatories
include many obvious fakes ("Dr Johnny Bananas").


And these three are cited by GOP governors and local pols for their
refusal to implement lockdowns, mask orders and other evidence-based,
life-saving measures.

Like tobacco-cancer deniers of the fifties, they're selling doubt, and
corporate-friendly politicians are buying.

Herd immunity is bad science, but it's good for business. Tossing
low-waged workers into a viral meat-grinder "keeps the economy going" -
which is to say, it keeps billionaires' fortunes intact.

Remember, if they need you to risk your life to make their fortunes,
then you - not they - are the reason they have that fortune to begin with.


🔝 How to cheat at Clock Simulator

Clock Simulator is a game that simulates being a clock. You have to
click your mouse once per second, on the beat, to advance the second
hand of a clock around a virtual clockface. The creator calls it a
"minimalist rhythm game."


Now, if you want to rack up some really high Clock Simulator scores, you
COULD spend hours at your mouse, tap-tap-tapping. But there's a better
way to do it...with SCIENCE.

Best of all: it's a hardware hack.

Michael Dwyer's Clock Simulator hack feeds a GPS receiver's 1PPS (one
pulse per second) function into a mouse for an unbeatable Clock
Simulator high-score generator.


"Sure. You can probably do this with macro software. I think there's
another guide for that. But this uses SATELLITES and ATOMIC CLOCKS, and
is therefore many times cooler." -Dwyer


🔝 Someone Comes to Town, part 18

The latest episode of my podcast is part 18 of my reading of my 2006
novel "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town," a book that Gene
Wolfe called "a glorious book unlike any book you’ve ever read."


This week's episode comes with content warnings for spousal abuse,
sexual violence and self-harm - and it also came with a kind of shock
for me about how much my attitudes to how this kind of material should
be presented in art have changed over the past ~15 years.

Here's how to catch up on previous installments:


And here's my podcast feed:


And here's a direct MP3 link (hosting courtesy of the Internet Archive:
they'll host your stuff for free, forever):



🔝 Facebook vs The Big Lebowski

Hans de Zwart is a digital rights activist - he used to run the Dutch
campaigning group Bits of Freedom - who also happens to be a massive Big
Lebowski fan. He created https://www.thebiglebow.ski, a search-engine
for Lebowski quotes.

Things were fine until de Zwart started getting user complaints: they
couldn't share content from his search engine on Facebook. They got this
cryptic error: "Your message couldn’t be sent because it includes
content that other people on Facebook have reported as abusive."

In an article for NRC, Reinier Kist recounts the bizarre, kafkaesque
journey de Zwart embarked upon to find out why Facebook had classed
quotes from The Big Lebowski as "abusive."


Every single thing about the story demonstrates Facebook's manifest
unsuitability to be in charge of the social lives of 2.6B people.

* de Zwart couldn't even ask Facebook to look into it unless he created
a FB account first

* FB wouldn't allow allow a lower-case "d" in "de Zwart" ("It is the
arrogance of a giant American corporation which considers the correct
spelling of the names of millions of Dutch people an edge case")

* When de Zwart complained to FB, he got another cryptic message telling
him not to expect a reply, but thanking him for "his experience"

* Then de Zwart registered as a FB advertiser and bought a EUR5 ad for
his site, thinking that FB might listen to him if he paid them

* The ad was rejected with this error: "this ad contains or refers to
content that has been blocked by our security systems (#1885260)" (FB
provides no way to look up error 1885260)

* To question this, de Zwart had to agree to four unreadable, one-sided
legal contracts

* When he did this, he got another terse message, thanking him for
"helping us improve!"

De Zwart knew that FB - like all Big Tech companies - only ever corrects
its mistakes when doing otherwise risks bad publicity.

So he pitched his story to Kist, who called up FB's PR office, and
within days, the site was unblocked, with an apology for "the
inconvenience." The only explanation? The site was misclassified by
automated tools.

De Zwart has published an English translation of Kist's article. The
subject matter is trivial, but the underlying message is frankly
terrifying: our ability to talk with one another, organize and debate is
in the hands of an uncaring giant.


FB is a company whose monopolistic scale means that it *can't* moderate
well, and also that it doesn't need to. What are you gonna do, use

And despite this, regulators keep asking FB to do more automated
filtering and more moderating.

They're bad at this. Really bad. When they do this, they end up
censoring their users' legitimate speech, and the only people who get a
hearing from them are people who know journalists who can threaten them
with public humiliation.

If you want to create a fairer and less toxic online communications
world, reduce Facebook's monopoly power - don't make them a permanent,
incompetent, unaccountable privatized arm of the state.

Asking Mark Zuckerberg to do more of something he sucks at won't make
him better at it - it'll just put his legion of traumatized, outsourced
moderators on a hair trigger that results in far more dolphins caught in
their tuna-nets.

And while famous, privileged and powerful people will be able to get
their material sprung from content jail, the marginalized, poor and
desperate will have no such access.

(de Zwart never got his 5 euros back)


🔝 Papercraft Haunted Mansion Hallowe'en

If you, like me, are missing the Haunted Mansion especially keenly as we
pass through this all-too-short, stolen Decorative Gourd season with its
rare confluence of an Oct 31 full moon on a Saturday night, Disney
Imagineering has some comfort for you.

The Disney Parks blog has published a pair of printable Haunted Mansion
activity books (the first half of four weekly installments) that offer a
wealth of decor elements to print, cut, color, fold.

Part 1 features a papercraft set of Disneyland entry gates in their
Hallowe'en finery, a papercraft bat-stanchion with WELCOME FOOLISH
MORTALS signage, and Hitchhiking Ghosts, Hatbox Ghost an ghostly hand
shadow puppets.


Part 2 has gate-sign placemats, cupcake and straw toppers, cup-sleeves,
napkin rings, gargoyle place-card holders and Doom Buggy snack boxes!


They were created by Imagineers Stephanie Jazmines and Amy Young.


🔝 This day in history

#15yrsago Vet’s obit: “send acerbic letters to Republicans”

#10yrago Canon’s printer/photocopier blocks jobs based on keywords

#10yrago Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight, sentimental and fun book
about a witch among enemies

#10yrago Tom Waits and Preservation Hall Jazz Band release
limited-edition 78RPM record and matching limited edition record-player


#5yrsago Facebook UK made £105M in 2014, paid £35M in bonuses, and will
pay £4,327 in tax

#5yrsago Economics research considered unreplicable

#5yrsago Read: Austin Grossman’s moving text-adventure story “The Fresh
Prince of Gamma World”

#1yrago AT&T; hikes business customers’ bills by up to 7%, charging them
to recoup its own property taxes

#1yrago Google continues to funnel vast sums to notorious climate


🔝 Colophon

Today's top sources: Hackaday (https://hackaday.com/), Naked Capitalism

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel
about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 618 words (71266 total).

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 17)

Upcoming appearances:

* The Attack Surface Lectures: 8 nights of bookstore-hosted events in
which I and a massive group of entertaining and knowledgeable experts
discourse on my latest novel's themes, Oct 13-22

* Milehicon (Guest of Honor!), Oct 23-5, https://milehicon.org/

* Coding Democracy/Toronto International Festival of Authors, Oct 24

Recent appearances:

* David Pakman: It's Monopolies, Not Surveillance

* 3 Big Ideas to Fix The Internet

* The Internet Is Broken, and ISPs Are to Blame (Gizmodo System Reboot)

Latest book:

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

Upcoming books:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

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